TOKYO, July 1 — In the new frontier that is the post Fuji TV era,
Dream Stage Entertainment once again set up shop in the company’s
unofficial home, Saitama Super Arena, to stage the second round of
the PRIDE Open-Weight Grand Prix.
It has been a tough couple of weeks for the company, going through
the harsh transition of being carried by a major network only to
have the rug pulled out from under it on June 5 — “Black Monday” —
without any prior notice.
Gone with Fuji’s departure are the big corporate dollars that the
national broadcaster brought to the table. PRIDE’s survival is now
on the shoulders of the fans that come to the arena.
Some wondered what changes, if any, there would be between the
“old” and “new” PRIDE. For the most part the production levels were
the same, despite some graphics changes and a new pre-fight video
voice. One thing that didn’t change however, are the dynamite
match-ups that PRIDE has become famous for putting together.
Since Kazushi Sakuraba(Pictures)’s departure from the
company in May, DSE has really pushed Yoshida as the new figurehead
of the promotion. In the eyes of the Japanese public, the judoka’s
battle with Naoya Ogawa(Pictures) at PRIDE’s New Year’s Eve
event, “Shockwave,” was the biggest match in the history of the
The first round of this bout started cautiously, with Yoshida
circling the ring. After trading a few punches, the Japanese
fighter shot for the single-leg takedown, only to end up in the
clinch. Moments later, Yoshida attempted a classic judo hip toss,
which “Cro Cop” narrowly escaped.
From here on out “Cro Cop” utilized his best weapon — not high, but
rather low kicks. After chopping down a few well timed bombs to his
Yoshida’s legs, it was blatantly obvious that the limping judoka
was in major trouble.
With Yoshida no longer able to take shots or step in on his
punches, “Cro Cop” knocked him to the mat with a well placed
uppercut. Upon slowly answering the call from the Croatian to get
back to his feet, Yoshida was soon back on the mat after receiving
a powerful low kick to the outside of his left leg. A PRIDE
official threw in the towel and the referee called a stop to the
This bout truly proved the effectiveness of low kicks in MMA.
Without your legs, it’s impossible to mount any kind of offense. In
his post-fight interview, “Cro Cop” stated that he knew kick
defense was not a strong point of Yoshida’s and that after the
first few kicks landed, he knew that he would defeat the Japanese
fighter with a low kick.
After missing the first round of the Open-Weight Grand Prix due to
a contract dispute, PRIDE 205-pound champion Wanderlei Silva(Pictures) was thrown into the second round
mix when it was announced current PRIDE heavyweight champion
Fedor Emelianenko(Pictures) could not participate due
to a nagging hand injury.
The Chute Boxe fighter was matched up against Japanese juggernaut
Kazuyuki Fujita(Pictures). As soon as this bout was
announced, it had “slobber knocker” written all over it. Fujita,
coming in with a 31-pound weight advantage, is every bit as famous
for his iron chin as Silva is for his vicious striking.
After stalking each other around the ring, Silva started off the
action with a flurry of punches that drove Fujita to the corner.
Staggered, Fujita fell to his knees, only to have the Brazilian
nail him with a kick to the head. In an act of desperation, the
Japanese fighter grabbed his charging opponent’s legs and
eventually muscled a takedown at the ropes.
Once repositioned to the center of the ring, Silva scrambled on the
bottom and applied a strong armbar attempt from his back. After
some tense moments, Fujita escaped back to the guard.
After trading more punches on the feet, Silva caught his opponent
with a one-two combination at the ropes. Fujita went down, once
again going after Silva’s legs to try to survive the onslaught, but
PRIDE’s middleweight champion stayed on his feet and hammered his
downed with uppercuts and soccer kicks. Eventually Fujita could
take no more punishment and turned to the ropes. The referee
stepped in and stopped the fight at the 9:21 mark of the first.
There was nothing pretty about this bout; it was just a plain, old
fashion beatdown. I’m now fully convinced that Fujita has about 20
pounds of concrete in his skull. He absorbed a massive amount of
punishment in the final 15 seconds before the referee stopped the
Just seconds after leaving the ring, Fujita ran back to the
interview space, totally unannounced, still sweating and breathing
hard, and simply stated that it was a decisive loss and, “This
isn’t the end, it isn’t over now.”
Nogueira did a great job of controlling the real estate in the
first, pushing Werdum around the ring. With his long jab and crisp
boxing the Brazilian Top Team member kept Werdum at bay, twice
knocking him to the mat.
Werdum must have sensed that he was losing the stand-up war during
the first intermission, because coming out for the second and third
rounds, the jiu-jitsu black belt was all about the takedown,
scoring it almost seemingly at will against his opponent.
On the ground, the two fighter’s jiu-jitsu prowess seemed to cancel
each other’s out. Neither man got the upper hand on positions. At
one point Nogueira had on a tight guillotine from his back, while
later Werdum went for a Kimura and then an arm-triangle
Both guys were fairly active on the mat, and in the last 15 seconds
of the bout there were too many transitions to count. The fight
went the distance and Nogueira took the unanimous decision.
Going into this bout, one had the feeling that if Barnett was going
to win this one it would be on the ground. Mark Hunt(Pictures) has come a long way since his
debut in PRIDE a little over two years ago, but he is still nowhere
near as well rounded as the former UFC heavyweight champion.
The two fighters came to a clinch early on, with Barnett scoring a
takedown. From here, the American fighter scurried to the side,
looking for a Kimura. Hunt fought off the attempt, but eventually
Barnett threw his leg over his opponent’s head, pinning his arm and
shoulders to the mat. With Hunt unable to escape, Barnett took his
arm and applied the Kimura for the tapout victory.
Backstage, Barnett said that he was more than confident to stand
and trade with Hunt, but that would have been playing into this
opponent’s hands. Rather, he decided to use his opponent’s lack of
ground game to his advantage.
Of all the fighters moving on to the semifinal— “Cro Cop,” Barnett,
Nogueira and Silva — only “Cro Cop” has fought every man, beating
Barnett, drawing with Silva in a special rules match, and losing to